Dressage Rider Facing Possible Sanctions for Prohibited Substances

German dressage rider Isabell Werth is meeting her fair share of battles in 2013. In addition to facing possible sanctions for prohibited substances, the five-time Olympic gold medalist is also contending with public fire over hyperflexion.

Werth's 11-year-old Rhinelander gelding El Santo tested positive for cimetidine, a prohibited substance in the rules of the German Equestrian Federation (FN), at a national competition last June, a spokesperson for the FN said. Cimetidine is a drug used for treating or preventing digestive tract ulcers.

"It's possible that this was an unintentional ingestion of the medication through a technical problem in the stall, and Isabell Werth must prove that to the German federation through analyses and testing," FN spokesperson Susanne Hennig told The Horse. "Theoretically if she can prove her innocence, then there will be no sanctions."

El Santo's stall neighbor Warum Nicht FRH--Werth's mount at the 2010 World Equestrian Games, held in Lexington, Ky.--was being treated with cimetidine to prevent stomach upset after a prolonged treatment with pain medicine following a fracture, according to a spokesperson for Werth. Werth suspects that El Santo might have accidentally consumed some of the medication due to the close proximity of the horses, the spokesperson said. Currently all sorts of potential contamination are being examined.

The unintentional transfer of pharmaceutical substances between horses sharing a barn is certainly possible, according to Marie-Agnès Popot, PharmD, PhD, head of research at the Laboratoire des Courses Hippiques near Paris, France. In Popot's research, contamination of certain analgesics and anti-inflammatories occurred through soiled bedding, but not through water pipes. Her research did not include cimetidine. And as each drug has its own particularities, it is impossible to know if cimetidine can be accidentally transferred without specifically studying the drug itself, she told The Horse.

Meanwhile an internet debate among German horse circles has developed over videos of Werth training a young mare in a hyperflexed neck position at a national show in Munster late last month. Werth worked the 9-year-old Bella Rose in the warm-up area as practice, although she did not intend to present the horse at the competition itself, Werth's spokesperson said. The German FN outlawed hyperflexion in competition warm-up arenas at the beginning of the year; however, because the horse was not listed to compete, the German FN did not intervene.

"I was just doing some gymnastic training in the warm-up area," Werth said in an interview on the German television station WDR.

A follow-up video showed Werth training Bella Rose without hyperflexion the following day, according to the spokesperson.

The German FN will meet in March for the next disciplinary discussion regarding Werth's prohibited substance case, Hennig said.

As the case involved a show at a national level and not international level, the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) has no jurisdiction over it, according to Malina Gueorguiev, FEI manager of press relations. "The anti-doping regulations of the German Equestrian Federation apply to this case," she said. "The FEI Legal Department is therefore not involved."

About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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